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Understanding the legal sleaze behind the bulk copyright lawsuits


Cnet’s Greg Sandoval interviews Cindy Cohn, the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, on the bulk copyright lawsuits coming out of big US law firms. Cindy is my favorite legal explainer in the world (she’s one of the people who changed my mind about DRM!), and this is her in great form:Large copyright graffiti sign on cream colored wall

Q: You guys have challenged Dunlap on several issues and said it is wrong to name thousands in one lawsuit. Tell me why that’s wrong? Cohn: We’ve attacked them on a couple of principles. We filed a brief on Friday in one of Dunlap’s cases on misjoinder (the legal term for the inclusion of parties in a single legal action). It’s a fundamental principle of law that you should be judged on your behavior. If you lump a bunch of people together it’s harder for each individual to have their case heard and evaluated on the merits. By lumping thousands of people together in the same lawsuit, you put each one of those individuals at a disadvantage. And you, I think, increase the pressure on them to pay you some shakedown money to make the thing go away rather than actually address the case on the merits.

Again, joining thousands of people together is only one of the techniques. We’ve see two or three different techniques these trolls are using to try to make sure these people just pay them the money rather than fight. Another technique is suing people in random places. This isn’t where they live or even where the filmmaker is. The two places you think about suing someone is where the plaintiff is or where the defendant is. But the Dunlap suits, they’ve sued in Washington DC and there’s nobody in Washington DC except for Mr. Dunlap, the lawyers. I don’t know who is in West Virginia (where several porn studios filed copyright cases against a combined 5,000 people last month. The lawyer handling those cases is based in West Virginia).

Talk about ratcheting up the pressure. Finding a lawyer in West Virginia to even make an appearance on your behalf is very, very difficult. It’s a small place, a small bar. We have a list of lawyers who are willing to help people and I wonder if we have anybody in West Virginia. If we do I suspect it’s very few people. Again, you’re really just creating a situation where people don’t have any leverage to raise any defenses. You are stacking the deck.


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